I want to begin by putting on the record what I and the minister and our respective parties agree on in relation to this issue. That we owe a great debt of gratitude to the members of the Irish Defence Forces for their commitment to their country and to their jobs. Over the years they have faced down many threats internally within the state and externally across the world in pursuit of peace. They continue to serve both at home and abroad fearlessly and have brought and continue to bring great distinction to our country.
What we disagree on however is the organisation of those fine men and women in the country and the impact that changes on that organisation will have on communities across the island. This is why we are here tonight.
I along with my colleagues Brendan Smith, Robert Troy, Senator Diarmuid Wilson and Cllr Siobhán Ambrose then Mayor of Clonmel have sought since April information on proposed barrack closures. However, the standard reply from the minister is that “no decision has been made”
Yet, within the army community and within local communities, especially in Cavan, Clonmel and Mullingar, there is a wildly held belief that their barracks will close.
This belief is based on internal briefings from within the army.
This belief is based on comments made by several government TDS, including comments such as
- “The glove are off”
- “ I have no cause for optimism despite putting up a very strong case for the future of the barracks”
- and a lengthy release from one government deputy outlining (a) the options for army members who are moved and (b) that the physical barracks will be made available to community groups immediately on closure. So the words in the government amendment that “condemns mischievous attempts to exaggerate the impact of these necessary decisions and create unnecessary fears among local communities” are relevant to government TDs more than most.
I’ve no wish to name the TDS involved. This motion is about the 500 families that are been left in limbo by this lack of decision and their communities.
This is why we have chosen to put this motion down this evening-to offer you Minister the chance to bring clarity to this picture for once and for all.
I want to reflect on the government amendment for a few moments.
The first line of the government amendment is to congratulate themselves on taking “resolute action in facing the economic crisis”. And yet three lines later it states that decisions in relation to estimates and the troika have been taken by the previous government. It is those same estimates Minister that you are congratulating yourself for implementing in the first line.
Yes, in government we closed army barracks. We did so in the face of strenuous and hostile opposition from your party. We are not hiding from this, it is straight up in our motion. There is nothing “inconsistent” about our approach.
- We closed them because of the transformed security situation on this island as a result of the peace process.
- We ensured that 85 million euro from the sale of those closed barracks was invested back in to among our army one of the most modern in Europe
And because of that experience and that work we know that we should not close any more barracks. 18 is an optimal numbers for a force of 10,000 or so. 18 reflects a suitable geographical dispersal highlighting different specialties within the army. Those specialities are instanced in Mullingar, which is the only artillery barracks left in the country, in Clonmel – a vital base for the RDF and Cavan- a state of the art purpose built barracks, one of the finest of its kind in Europe.
These three barracks are collectively home to just over 500 soliders and their families and are worth about €15 million to the three local economies. How will the withdrawal of that spend from these three economies impact on the “public finances” you proclaim to be so worried about in your amendment?
Your amendment speaks of “unnecessary” fears. There is nothing “unnecessary” about the fear amongst these communities. They are afraid because on the one hand they are hearing it from the army that these barracks are to be closed, they are getting vibes from their government TDs that the barracks are to be closed. And because you will not tell them or indeed us what exactly your plans are these fears are been allowed to fester.
So Minister tonight’s your chance to end those fears for once and for all.
I know from your form and from your amendment that you won’t probably deal with these genuine fears, we’ll have your usual broken record of blaming my party for everything from the collapse in the economy to stealing your sweets as a child. However I would like you to deal with some of the following;
Where will the savings be made by closing these barracks?
I want you to answer that in the context that:
- you will not be laying soldiers off,
- you will be paying them extra travelling allowances,
- you will have to make capital investments in other barracks to accommodate them and
- you will still have substantial security and maintenance bill in the sites you close
- You will not be able to realise any capital from the sale of the closed barracks in the current climate
How will the defence priorities of the state be served by closing these barracks? Surely you should await the publication of the new white paper before proceeding with further closures?
- Closing Dun Ui Neill will leave only two barracks on the border. If we needed any reminding that we still need maximum protection along the border, the seizures of illicit fuel and the arrest of dissident republicans in the past few days.
- Closing Columb will leave us without our last Artillery Barracks in the country and an important Unifil Staging Post
- The closure of Kickham in Clonmel will be a serious setback to the operations and organisation of the RDF
Proceeding to undermine these three functions will hamper the integrity of the White Paper process.
There is a danger that in a debate about barracks and the economy that we forget about the most important element of this issue-the people involved.
Hundreds of army personnel around this country do not know tonight where they will be stationed in 6 weeks time. They do not know what their working and commuting day will look like. Some are on service in the Lebanon and do not know where they are coming home to. Their families do not know. Their communities do not know.
I started by paying tribute to these brave men and women. Is this the way to treat them and their families?
Minister, you have it in your authority to clarify their situation and that of their communities. Take that chance.